Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Flood Lessons Learned

  One definition of insanity is "the act of repeating the same mistakes over and over". One might say that living in a flood plain is definition enough, as the constant adversity can wear a person down, but one saying I agree with is, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".
 We had experienced two floods in our previous river home and another major one in 1993 in our current home. In my previous post, I had alluded to a bigger flood in 1995, but before I get to that, I need to relay to you some of the lessons we had learned from the three floods we had gone through.
Our Meramec River Home

 After the flood of '79 in our first home I learned that a water well needed to have a sealed well head to keep flood water from contaminating the water supply. We also learned to put the main electric panel on the second floor as high as practical. We put the air conditioning and heating units as high as possible as well, and any materials used in construction had to withstand submersion in water for a period of time, at least materials used on the first floor.
 Even with the "traditional" methods of flood repair that we resorted to after the flood of '93, there was some improvements made to our home that allowed for us to continue inhabiting our home during a flood, and also helped prevent some damage and made cleanup after a flood easier.

 One thing to note here is that a lot of the trees along our local rivers are sycamore trees. Sycamore trees don't have an elaborate root system like some trees, and if you notice a good number of dead branches on a sycamore, particularly on older and bigger ones, it is a good chance that the root system is getting rotten too. At one point during the '93 flood, after the ground had been saturated for several weeks, one of the largest trees in our yard just fell over, and I'm talking about a tree that was a good 3 feet or more in diameter. Luckily, the tree just missed the boat dock. Since we had been considering some major changes to our home in the way of elevating it, and adding on, I decided to eliminate another one of the biggest sycamores in the yard that hung partially over the house.
 The road we lived on was a private road, one lane, and the surface was gravel. Once mud from a flood gets on gravel, it's hard for even rain to wash it off, and for weeks after a flood, especially with any rain, mud gets tracked in from car tires, your feet, the dog's feet, and everything else. We went through the expense of paving our road with asphalt, down to just past our house, and our neighbors pitched in and paved the road the rest of the way to the last house.
 Our current home had a well when my dad bought it. Even though he had put in a submersible pump for that well, it was not drilled very deep and he had built a section of the house over it which made for pulling the pump for repair difficult. In addition to that, the well head was not sealed and our well water during the '93 flood became contaminated with river water. We could flush toilets, but washing clothes or dishes, or taking a bath was out of the question. We had a deeper well drilled after the '93 flood. It was 100 feet deep, providing lots of good water. A well needs to be vented, but the problem of venting the well without losing the seal on the well head is a legitimate one. The outfit hired with drilling the well had suggested erecting a vent pipe out the top of the well that would exceed the height of any flood. Unless I was going to place the well right next to the house, which would have put the well off of our property, or I was going to disguise the vent pipe as a flag pole, these options didn't appeal to me. Now, a submersible well pump sits in the bottom of a well and sort of resembles a time capsule in appearance. The body is stainless steel and wires run from the pump, out the top of the well, and to an electric supply. I suggested that the conduit used for the pump wires could double as the vent pipe, if everything was glued and sealed properly. The fellas installing the well liked the idea, so we ran the conduit high up into the second floor where a new main electrical panel was installed. For the rest of the time we owned that home, through a few more floods, we had clean water at all times.
 We had oil heat in our first river home. A 250 gallon oil tank sat in the first floor of that place. Luckily the flood of '79 was not very high, or I can imagine that oil tank busting through the floor at some point. That was another reason for replacing the oil furnace with a heat pump mounted high on the side of the house.
 Our home at 92 Opps Lane had propane heat, therefor had a 300 gallon propane tank sitting in the yard. Even with it being mounted to a large concrete foundation, once the ground loosened up after several weeks of high water, the tank popped out of the ground and was only held in place by a cable running to a tree and the gas line itself. I came home early one morning on a weekend after working the midnight shift. I had the windows in my truck rolled down and as I got off the highway to turn into old town Fenton, I smelled propane. This location was well over a mile from our home, so I didn't think the odor was from our tank, but as I got closer, the smell became stronger. As I approached our home in the Jon boat, I could see the gas escaping from the tank. During our flood preparation, one item to address is turning off the propane supply at the tank and I missed it. The supply line to the house had broken because the tank had floated loose and gas was spewing out. I had done some dumb things in my life, and I was about to do another. Internal combustion or not, I shut off my outboard motor, eliminating it as an ignition source, attached a rope line to the house, and maneuvered the boat over to the propane tank. The valve was submersed under the water some, but I was able to reach down and close the valve almost completely, leaving only a trickle of gas to escape until the tank finally went empty. To this day, I don't know how no one else discovered the source of the propane odor and had the whole town of Fenton evacuated.
 By this time I had gotten pretty good at determining how high flood waters were going to get based on predictions from the National Weather Service. There was a flood gauge at Valley Park, MO., and one at Arnold, MO., and Fenton sat roughly in the middle of the two. By using a calculation based on those two reports, and taking account the river levels on the Mississippi, along with considering whether we were dealing with a head water, or back water flood, I could figure just about exactly where on our house the water was going to come and when, with the records I kept in a book just for that purpose. With this information, I could call furniture movers in the nick of time and get all of our first floor furniture out and into storage for the duration of the flood. Insurance would pay for this mitigation process, as it was cheaper than paying to replace furniture damaged from a flood. This way, the movers could keep stuff out of our way, making cleanup easier afterwards.
 There were other ways we dealt with the floods too, and I won't get into them just yet, but this last one concerns our boat dock. In the last picture from the previous post, (you did read it, didn't you?) our boat dock was floating upside down. I haven't gotten into the tale about the '95 flood, but when the water went down after, our dock cables had gotten hooked into the trees and the whole dock was left suspended like laundry above the ground, tons of wood and steel and a puzzle as to how to get it back to where it was supposed to be. It was after the '95 flood that I decided to solve the problem of keeping the dock in place during the fiercest of floods.
 Now you know why I felt prepared to maintain residence in our home during a flood. The story about the flood of 1995 is coming up next.

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